Unruly Americans

The American society has been taught to believe that the US Constitution was written to encourage democracy and protect civil rights. However, Holton offers a different view. He even goes to the extent of stating that, were it not for the anti-federalists the Bill of Rights would not have been included in the Constitution. He further argues that the specific purpose of the framers of the Constitution was specifically to limit democracy, with the notion that the state assemblies were too responsive to the needs of their constituents, particularly in granting relief for public and private debts (Holton, 2007).

According to Woody Holton, the founding fathers did not write the constitution to protect individual liberties and the freedom of the people as it is commonly believed. Their basic agenda was to make America more attractive to investment. The only way to achieve was to take power away from the states and eventually from the people by consolidating power in the federal government. (Holton, 2007).The framers were not comfortable with the idea of power being in the hands of middling farmers who constituted a significant proportion of America’s voting population. On the contrary, they believed governance should be left largely to the elites. However, they also knew that if the document they drafted did not match the citizens’ expectations, the states would not ratify it. Thus, the framers were forced to draft a more radical document than they initially imagined.

On the face of it, the Founding Fathers wanted a new constitution mainly because they of the opinion that a government founded on the Articles of Confederation would be unstable and inefficient. The current government under the Articles of Confederation was not functioning due to the balance of powers between the state and federal governments. The document vested too much power in state governments at the expense the federal government. The document according to them, did not define comprehensively the structures of a federal government.

The federal government as well as Congress had little power, there was no chief executive, and Congress had no power to tax citizens directly, no power to draft an army, no national court system and no power to settle arguments among states. This was a particularly controversial issue that led to the division among the states. As a result, two parties emerged; the federalists, who fought hard for a strong central government, and the anti-federalists who believed in the state and individual rights. (Holton, 2007).The two parties later ceded some ground on their stand and worked together to ratify the new Constitution that granted more power to a federal government and granted less power but still gave protection to the states.

Therefore it is the Average Americans who were the true framers of the Constitution. They rallied for a more inclusive document and challenged the framers of the Constitution to revise the document. The framers were not very keen on allowing the post-Revolutionary War America adopt democracy fully. They were not amused with idea of ordinary citizens exercising too much influence over state and national policies. However the framers were not very successful in curtailing citizen rights leading to at times violent reactions, of unruly average Americans.

In the early 1770s, as the Americans prepared for independence they began to lay the groundwork for state constitution-making. The Articles of Confederation was adopted as the first constitution of the new government after it was ratified by all the thirteen states. In 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the resolution for the independence of America and the framing of the Declaration of Independence. It was at this time that they also adopted the framing of articles of confederation and perpetual union. The initial draft of the Articles of Confederation was prepared by a prominent the lawyer John Dickinson of Pennsylvania. However after scrutinizing the draft, it was rejected by other delegates because according to them, it yielded too much power in Congress. This marked the beginning of the redrafting of the document which went on for close to twelve months. On 15 November 1777, the Continental Congress sent the finished draft to the thirteen states which on their part took nearly four years to ratify the Articles. There was a tug of war between the states and the elite. This was mainly because most state legislatures wanted the document to be more inclusive by including clauses which had been previously deleted by the delegates.

The ratified draft provided for a one-house Confederation Congress with each state delegation having one vote. The final draft did not include the judiciary and the executive branches of government. The congress was to agree on major decisions through a majority vote. On matters, such as treaties, a two-thirds vote was needed. If there was to be any amendments of the, all the thirteen states were to agree unanimously. (Holton, 2007). The Confederation had neither federal power of taxation nor direct federal on individual citizens. The Confederation was forced to rely on the goodwill of the states in most federal matters. It was basically a toothless dog and this did not go down well with the elites who were not comfortable with America being under the whims of the common man.

Congress realized that the deal was not cut for them and the therefore began making things work for them as well. They went behind the tenets of the Articles and created independent executive departments. These included; War, Finance, Foreign Affairs.  They also created the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture. This was beyond there jurisdiction however there was no opposition to their actions. They were lucky to get away with it as would be impossible for all the thirteen states to ratify such radical decisions. They had omitted such organs purposely as they knew that this would be the beginning of a centralized from of government which they were keen on.

To fund it operations, the Confederation Congress relied on contributions made by the states and on loans negotiated by American diplomats abroad as it was not vested with the authority to collect taxes from the states. The states were to levy and collect taxes on behalf of the Confederation and to remit the moneys collected to the Confederation. The tax to be raised by each state was based on the value of its land (Holton, 2007). This system was not favored by the congress and sooner or later it would be phased out, allowing a less rigid system where the federal government would amass more power and authority over the states. government less democratic than it had been.




The elite were opposed to the Articles of the Confederation as they feared that it did not advance their interests. They believed that if it was to be implemented to the letter, too much power would be vested in the common man which was a risky affair. Under the Articles, the states ceded very little of their jurisdiction to the federal government. According to them, a lot of political power was retained in the states giving the federal government little or no space to out maneuver them. The Articles provided for only one branch of government, the legislature, with one vote for each of the states.

The elite feared this democratic form of government run by the people as it would dilute their wealth and power. Therefore, the new document was crafted to safeguard their wealth and would ensure that the elite permanently retain their wealth, power, and control of the government. They supported a constitution that ceded more power to the central government than the states as opposed to what was provided for in the Articles.

The constitution would provide for a government with an executive and judicial branch in addition to the legislature. Only one part of the government would be directly elected to the lower house of the legislature, the House of Representatives. The upper house, the Senate, would be appointed by the elite governing bodies of each state, the President by elite electors of each state and the judiciary by the president and Senate. Thus the elites would control the three branches of government. In such a scenario, it would be next to impossible to maintain a system of checks and balances between the various branches This would curtail democracy, in addition to maintaining the status quo (Holton, 2007).

With their control over the legislature and the executive, the elite would write laws and enforce them. In addition, their control over the judiciary branch would come in handy in case there was any opposition to the laws they passed. However, there was one challenge to their ambitious plot; the constitution had to be ratified unanimously by all the thirteen states. It was obvious that the people preferred the Articles. Therefore it was only nine states that would approve it for it for it to become law. To counter these objections and get the approval of the nine states, they promised that a bill of rights would be enacted within a year of ratification. Even after making that promise it was only after the people, who were so called unruly, persistently demanded for its inclusion that the constitution was ratified.

A perfect democracy operates on the basic principle that the majority always wins even if the minority forms a significant proportion of the population. Simply put, a democratic government is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The people are thus empowered to be the agents of the change they would like. On the contrary, in a republic the population vests the power to make and amend laws in their elected representatives. Therefore democracy is the rule by the majority while a republic is rule by law.

The Founders Fathers used the term mobocracy to describe democracy. To further express their disregard for democracy, it was not included in any single phrase of the founding documents.  The word democracy does not appear in the Constitution or in the Declaration of Independence. At the constitutional convention, where the founding fathers indulged in creating the new government, democracy was debated and rejected overwhelmingly as a form of government.  They believed that a democratic form of government was only viable in states with small populations. In society like America, a democratic government would only lead to instability and intolerance (Holton, 2007). This was a crucial time as a new nation was being born and therefore it was important that all the states were united and had a common agenda. It would therefore not be possible to achieve this through the blanket of introduction of democracy.

Americans wanted a republican government where the people would be the ultimate source of power and legitimacy in the political system. This power was to be exercised through the direct elections of their representatives. However such a system would only work if the thirteen states were to be further subdivided into smaller largely autonomous states. Each of the American states was beyond the required size of a republic in terms of territory and population size. This formed the basis for the Second Continental Congress in making the constitution for an American nation.

In their pursuit of a republican government as opposed to a democratic one, the founding fathers established a system where the president would not be elected directly by the people as is common in democracy. The framers did not allow the states to choose the president directly. The Electoral College in which electors would be appointed from each state would the president. The state legislatures were only to determine how the electors would be chosen. In the earliest presidential elections, some states provided that the people would elect the electors; others favored  popular elections in districts, which could result in a state splitting its electors among several candidates while some state legislatures appointed the electors directly, without a popular election. In the first 40 years of the republic, most states gave the people the right to elect their electors, and the winner of the popular vote in each state would win all of the electoral votes from the state (Holton, 2007).

For one to be declared president, you had to win the majority votes in the Electoral College, a practice that is upheld even in modern day America. Under this system, each state is assigned a number of electors, depending on the size of the population within its territory. States with a large population are assigned more electors as compared to states with a low population.  The presidential candidate who receives a majority of the electoral votes becomes the president of the United States, and his running mate the vice president.  In crafting the presidential selection system the framers had the intention of keeping the presidency independent of the legislature and of the states. Secondly, they aimed at ensuring that only a national figure would assume the highest office in the land.

To understand why both creditors and debtors favored the constitution, it is necessary to look at the clause that generated interest between both of these parties. The bankruptcy clause was included much later in the constitution. Much thought was not given to it at the time. It was Charles Pinckney of Rhode Island who proposed the Bankruptcy Clause late in the constitutional convention and was passed with minimal debate. (Holton, 2007).The federal bankruptcy legislation was designed to regulate commerce and was key in preventing debtors from fleeing to another state to evade honoring their financial obligations.

Bankruptcy later became a hot area of legislative contention. Prominent lawmakers including Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay contributed significantly to this issue. The major players affected by the bankruptcy clause were farmers and states’ rights advocates and those who were in favor of nationalized economy. It was seen as the ultimate solution for woes brought forth by the economic depression (Holton, 2007).

Congress passed a series of bankruptcy laws, many of which did not see the light of day as they were quickly repealed. In the absence of federal regulation, state insolvency laws filled the gap. Moreover state laws were mitigated by jurisdictional limitations, and each new crisis brought calls for federal legislation.

It was clear from the onset that both creditors and debtors expected the Constitution to work to their favor. Americans had invested their wealth in risky but high yield investments including; the Indian land and war bonds. The Indian lands were of great interest as it was expected they would be taken over by the federal government. People had taken loans to speculate on these lands and had run into debt. The debtors as well as creditors placed their hopes in the new constitution as it was expected to bring stability to the financial sector. James Madison, the chief architect of the constitution fuelled their hopes by stating that the reforms to be initiated would downplay the state legislatures’ mistreatment of private creditors as well as bondholders (Holton, 2007). After the ratification of the Articles of Confederations, Hamilton had rubbished a clause which banned states from coming to the rescue of debtors. He further added that the new constitution would give debtors more opportunities by not interfering with their private affairs.  This generated a lot of hope from the public and thus their support for the constitution.

On the other hand bondholders and private creditors in some states believed that the state legislatures had given debtors and taxpayers too freedom. In these states, the aggrieved parties had no doubt that debt and tax relief had caused a credit crunch as lenders had become stingy with their money to both the government and individuals. On the contrary believed that the state legislatures were too hard on debtors and taxpayers.

Those who held speculative bonds bond, a majority of whom were creditors, supported the Constitution because it would, for the first time, give the general government the tax revenue it needed to redeem their bonds. This would be beneficial to both parties as non bondholders were interested in the improvement of the government’s credit rating. This would make the government one of the most prospective lenders providing good returns on the capital which lay idle. Many Americans, especially in states that burdened their population with heavy direct taxes due to lack of other avenues to raise funds, were optimistic that  allowing the federal government to collect taxes would reduce its annual demands on farmers and other payers of direct levies. it.

Article I, Section 10 was especially a favorite for creditors, who wanted to be able to obtain loans. This would allow them to access credit irrespective of their credit ratings. This was a privilege many of them did not enjoy due to them restrictive nature of the state laws. Generally, it was believed that the only way to rescue the United States from the postwar recession was to make it a more attractive place in which to invest. The founding fathers liberal policies which were to be enacted in the constitution would facilitate this (Holton, 2007).

In his book, Woody Holton tries to some extent downplay the over glorification of the founding fathers. However he does not underestimate their influence in shaping America to what it currently is. He states that the framers main agenda was to ensure America remained an elitist society where ascension to power by the common man would not be easy as this would pose a risk to the ideals that led to the birth of a new and powerful nation. However, the will of the people as shown in the book can overrule that of a few individuals. For the example the Bill of Rights as a result of people putting pressure on the founding father to include it in the constitution.












Holton, W. (2007). Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. Published by Hill and Wang.




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